The Middle of the World (Mitad del Mundo) is one of Ecuador’s most popular and unmissable tourist attractions. Nowhere else on the planet is it easier to visit the Equator line, or strike a cheesy pose with one foot in each hemisphere. Even Ecuador’s name was born of it’s location at latitude zero. Yes, a visit to Mitad del Mundo is undeniably touristy, but it’s also educational and heaps of fun. Not only will you effortlessly lose weight at Mitad del Mundo, you’ll also discover if water really does flow down the drain in different directions in the north and south hemispheres.
So, keep reading for everything you need to know to plan your visit to Mitad del Mundo Ecuador.
Ecuador’s capital, Quito, is the closest major city to the Equator line on the planet. To tap into equator tourism, Ecuador has built an impressive monument to mark the site, as well as various Equator themed museums. So, for novelty seeking tourists, Ecuador is the place to come to stand on the Equator line.
In fact, Ecuador’s Equator story runs much deeper than that, and the equator line has always played an important role here throughout the centuries. Both the city of Quito and the country itself derived their names from the Equator. The important French geodesic scientific study took place here. Even Ecuador’s highest peak, Chimborazo Volcano at 6,310m (20,700 ft), can lay claim to being closer to the sun than Mt. Everest, thanks to the Equatorial bulge.
So, what visitors see today at Mitad del Mundo goes far beyond all those touristy photos. Ecuador, Quito and the Equator line have always been inextricably linked. Let’s head back in time to learn all about it.
Most of us likely imagine that the concept of the Equator was born in the golden age of exploration and scientific mapping of the world. Yet, incredibly evidence shows that the Quitu indignous culture were aware that they lived in the middle of the world thousands of years earlier.
The Quitu people founded Quito, and ruled the area from around 2000BC. Not only did they know that they were in the middle of the world, they even took their name from it - “Qui” meaning middle, and “tu” earth. Ancient Quitu sundials were used long before the Equator appeared on western maps. The Quitu also marked the Equator with a ceremonial site at Catequilla – a strategic mountain-top lookout with evidence of astrological importance.
While the Quitu people were conquered first by the Incas and then the Spanish, the significance of their knowledge was largely forgotten. But this would change in grand style in 1736.
By now European scientists recognised the existence of an equatorial line, and wanted to explore the circumference measurements of planet earth. So, in 1736, the French Academy of Science sent two different teams out to perform measurements. Known as the French Geodesic Mission, one team went to the north pole, the other to the equator. Their goal was to measure one degree of latitude using modern scientific tools and techniques.
Quito was chosen as the equator science base, where a team led by French astronomer Charles Marie de la Condamine set about their studies. 3 long years later, despite various deaths and mishaps that befell the team, the study reached a successful conclusion. They had proven decisively that the shape of the earth is not perfectly round. There is a bulge at the equator, and the planet is flattened at the poles. The study also eventually gave birth to the modern metric system.
The discovery of the equator’s bulge has led to a remarkable claim to fame for Ecuador’s largest volcano peak. Chimborazo Volcano is the highest peak on the planet, eclipsing even Mount Everest. How is that possible? While Everest may be the winner in terms of elevation above sea level, Chimborazo Volcano is unbeatable in distance measured from the center of the planet.
200 years later, in honor of the scientific significance of the French Geodesic mission, the Ecuadorian government built a monument at the Mitad del Mundo site we find today. Statues to the intrepid French scientific explorers line the boulevard that leads to the main monument, while on-site museums detail more about their studies.
The Equator line is located just 26 km (16 miles) north of Ecuador’s capital city, Quito. With a little planning it’s easy to get to, and makes for a fun ½ day out and about.
Keep reading to learn how to get to Mitad del Mundo, plus what to see & do when you’re there.
Regular buses depart from Quito’s northern Ofelia bus station to Mitad del Mundo throughout the day. They conveniently make a stop right outside the equator monument. There are various bus connections throughout the city to arrive at Ofelia. The total cost, assuming you take 2 buses (one to Ofelia, then onto Mitad del mundo) will be less than $1 per person.
Visitors in a rush can save time by hailing a yellow taxi from Quito. The going rate is usually aprox $20 total each way, plus extra for waiting time (or catch a different taxi home).
Many visitors also choose a ½ day equator tour. Although more expensive, you’ll be picked up direct from your Quito hotel, and accompanied by a knowledgeable guide. Tours often also include visits to other nearby sites such as Pululahua Crater lookout.
Entrance fee: $5 adults / $2.50 kids.
Opening hours: 09:00 – 18:00, 7 days a week.
Mitad del Mundo’s impressive 100ft tall Equator monument is visible from the road. Enter the site and you’ll notice a globe on the top, and painted lines to mark each hemisphere on the ground.
If you ever wanted to take a cheesy equator line photo, you’ve come to the right place. One foot in each hemisphere, tick. Both feet on the equator, tick. Kissing couples on the equator, tick. Hands aloft as if holding the globe, tick. Get creative and do your own thing.
Once you’ve got those primal tourist urges out of the way, you’ll see that there is heaps more to do here. Mitad del mundo is designed like a mini-city with central plaza, main boulevard, side streets, shops and restaurants. During the week it can seem quite sleepy, but at weekends the plaza springs to life with colorful music and dance shows.
Museum exhibits include a planetarium, ethnographic museum, art exhibits, a small scale model of Quito city, an old train station, beer museum, cocoa & chocolate exhibits, a small chapel and more besides. The restaurants and shops are rather touristy, but ideal for a quick snack or coffee. The main boulevard is also lined with statue busts of those famous French Geodesic scientists. For an extra fee visitors can also climb to the top of the monument to enjoy the surrounding views.
The unusual, modern-style building at the entrance also usually catches the eye of curious visitors. It was built to house UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) meetings, although is currently out of use as Ecuador and many other countries left the union.
So, there is lots to keep visitors of all ages busy at the Mitad del Mundo Equator site. However, there is one giant elephant in the room that you need to know. Remember those cool photos you took standing on the Equator line? Well, you weren’t really standing on the Equator at all. What!!??? It’s true, sadly, modern GPS measurements pinpoint the exact Equator line location around 240 metres (790 ft) north of the marked line.
In spite of this rather glaring error, Mitad del Mundo is undeniably a fun place to visit and well worth the $5 entrance fee. Just don’t tell your friends back home that the line was painted in the wrong place ;)
Entrance fee: $4 adults / $2 kids.
Opening hours: 09:30 – 17:00, 7 days a week.
Bring your passport along if you’d like a special souvenir Equator stamp in it.
It turns out Mitad del Mundo is not the only gig in town. 200meters further north up the main road is Inti Ñan Museum - a more quirky, alternative Equator line experience.
Inti Ñan is the place to put to the test all of those scientific proofs that are only possible at the equator. Discover whether water really does flow counter-clockwise or clockwise in each hemisphere due to the Coriolis effect. Take the egg challenge – try to balance an egg on the head of a nail on the Equator line. Discover why your body weights 1 kilo less at the Equator. The museum also houses an ancient sun dial used by the original Quitu people to measure time and seasons – still remarkably accurate to this day.
The fun doesn’t stop there. Inti Ñan Museum also houses various exhibits about Ecuadorian culture.
The rainforest section includes the skin of a huge Anaconda snake, a thatched Huaorani long room hut, authentic blow guns and spears, and incredibly real shrunken heads (complete with instructions of how to make one).
There is a replica Quitu burial site, demonstrating how people were entombed to prepare them for the after-life, together with their worldly belongings.
An original choza hut of an actual residence that stood in the exact same spot in 1875 has also been preserved. Today it houses guinea pigs and an open fire to represent typical life in the Andes. Although constructed with simple adobe, chozas are said to be anti-seismic, hence this simple hut is still standing today.
There’s even a new chocolate exhibit, to learn about Ecuador’s different cacao regions, and the process to produce chocolate from cacao. Tastings always ensure a happy end to the guided tour.
Organised guided tours invariably head up to a lookout over the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve. When clear of clouds, visitors can enjoy panoramic views into the huge volcanic Pululahua crater, now full of patchwork agricultural fields and homesteads.
Entrance fee: $2 adults / $0,50 kids.
Opening hours: 08:30 – 17:30, 7 days a week.
How to get there: Flor del Valle buses to Cayambe run from Quito’s Ofelia Bus Station.
There is also another, less frequented, Equator momument to visit in Ecuador. Located close to Cayambe town on route to Otavalo, Quitsato is a huge 52m diameter sundial that visitors literally walk right onto. The large pole at the center casts a shadow of the correct time on the ground, and has lines to represent each Solstice and Equinox. Native guides are on hand to explain everything you need to know about the use and significance of this impressive solar monument.
In conclusion, no visit to Quito Ecuador is complete without a trip north to the Equator line. The Mitad del mundo monument is the most popular site to visit, while quirky Inti Ñan Museum is also worthy of your time. Today, both of these sites are recommended to learn more about the importance of the Equator, while snapping enough cheesy photos to last a lifetime.